New York State Funeral Directors Association

Venerable and distinctive, the hearse has served as a hallmark of funeral processions for more than a century.

And with good reason, according to Funeral Director Walter J. Kent – it’s the central vehicle in a funeral because of who it carries.

This summer, Kent became one of only two-dozen people worldwide to acquire a 2016 Grand Vista Classic Coach.

With a long frame, white-walled tires and chromed highlights, the new hearse brings back the old style of early vehicles yet gives Kent modern-day reliability.

Custom-built in Arkansas, the Walter J. Kent Funeral Home’s new hearse comes with an automatic transmission, a General Motors drivetrain and an LS - 3 Corvette motor, providing modern reliability Kent depends on.

Kent, the 2016 NYSFDA President, flew down to the Arkansas workshop of the Rosewood Classic Coach Co. to take a brief test ride and his first real drive was the 120-mile trip he took from the Convention in Rochester back home to Elmira.

“It just ran great,” he said.

The Rosewood Classic Coach Co. is owned by fourth-generation Arkansas funeral director Richard Neal, who acquired molds and designs from a business partner Max Prinzing, a custom vehicle maker from Minnesota.

It didn’t take long for the newest vehicle in the fleet of the Walter J. Kent Funeral Home to draw attention. People started stopping by about five minutes after he got back home from Rochester.

“No less than 25 people pulled in the parking lot, got out and looked and took pictures,” he recalls. A couple people posted photos of the car on their Facebook pages.

“It’s a unique vehicle and it garners a lot of attention,” said Kent – himself a car aficionado.

He’s not only a car fan – he’s a serious businessman when it comes to his funeral firm.

“I love the car. I just like the uniqueness of it – nobody else has one, and I do.”

He doesn’t expect every funeral home to go out and place an order, though. He’s already heard some hesitation from those seeing it for the first time.

One person he met at the Convention put it bluntly, Kent recalls. “One guy said `why would you buy something like that .. that would never work in my town.’”

Hearses range in price from $99,500 to $105,000 – according to some reports. Kent said he didn’t pay more for his custom vehicle than he would have for a new hearse.

And the Classic Coach, as far as Kent is concerned, is “timeless.”

“It’s no more expensive than a Cadillac or Lincoln hearse – but they become dated. You pay all that money for a car, and most funeral directors keep them for quite a number of years,” Kent said.

It looks a lot like a Duesenberg Motors car of the 1930s, and it also brings the qualities of the old horse-drawn hearses – following Kent’s guidance during planning for the build.

In terms of work, the look of the car doesn’t detract from its utility. It will fit any size casket and comes with the proper gear to hold it in place.

It has a vintage-style wooden dashboard, round gauges and carpeted flooring. But it’s not extravagant – the interior is `leatherette’ – not some fancy Italian leather.

Kent’s hearse is the first “Grand Vista” model with a full glass window – it gives a full view of the primary guest of a funeral – the deceased.

“The most important person goes in that car,” Kent said.

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association